The anguished story of one protestor’s resistance against the political oppression in Burma.
Canadian travel writer and poet Connelly’s fiction debut paints a portrait of the suffering of the people of Myanmar, where a military dictatorship rules the country harshly, bringing about the torture and incarceration of political opponents. In an appalling jail holding 10,000 people in foul conditions, corrupt jailers not only treat the inmates savagely and starve them, but punish the political detainees worse, extending their sentences for years, for transgressions like concealing pens and paper in their cells. Teza, a nationally beloved composer and singer of liberation songs, has been sentenced to 20 years of confinement, to be spent in a solitary cell called the teak coffin. Some of the most compelling scenes here illustrate the minute events of Teza’s days—he is now into the seventh year of his sentence. He hunts lizards to augment his meager rations; savors memories of his family, his girlfriend and his friendship with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; and uses meditation to free his mind. Double-crossed by his server (who delivers his food and removes his waste), Teza is nearly caught with writing materials in his possession. A brutal jailer, furious that the plot to extend Teza’s sentence failed, beats him horribly, breaking his jaw. Now Teza is moved to a different cell, where his server is a 12-year-old orphan boy who lives at the prison. The child, reminiscent of Teza’s own brother but also a symbol of the future of the nation, is illiterate and vulnerable, yet the singer enables him to escape to a monastery school, while simultaneously planning his own escape, a spiritual release that, aided by his Buddhist devotion, will allow him to transcend the cruelty of his persecutors.
A lyrical, if overlong and occasionally reductive, work—but at its core, a heartfelt humanitarian plea.